Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Taking that next breath

Befriending yourself is like a book of short stories, each step of the way there are characters and subplots. Though all by the same author, they may have very different tempos or flavors or impact. Some are short, some endless. One thing ties them all together and that's the breath itself. Without that, all the stories dissolve. So on the journey to radical self acceptance the breath is a deep well from which we can draw, and the more we cultivate awareness of the breath, the deeper the well will seem.

So often yoga practice takes us in its arms when we are tied in knots or desperate for a solution. Many times it welcomes us even when we arrive with negativity and resistance, or uncertainty. Self judgment is a constant companion for some of the practice, and sometimes this even turns outward towards others in the class or the teacher or the world at large.

The path to unconditional love of that embarrassing, messy, inept, awkward, shameful, angry self can begin with the next inhale. Just the simple act of recognizing how the breath flows in, stretching the diaphragm down into the belly and spreading the ribs just a little, lifting the collar bones at the fullest, can redirect this energy and begin to dissipate all that judgment. When you can allow the exhale to soften the inside of your ribs, slipping your shoulders into restful lightness atop that structure, feeling the deep pull of the low abdomen to empty out that last bit of carbon dioxide at the base of the breath, a little ease will begin to seep into the body. This is a direct signal to the mind that it does not have to fight off the moment. There is nothing in this moment that is threatening or destructive. Nothing in the moment that deserves all that vitriol pouring towards it as though the self was the enemy.

Truthfulness (Satya) will show you that there is a tenderness and compassion, an openness towards that struggling self, the one that made the mistake or said that thing or dropped the ball or acquiesced to something now regretted. The breath can help take you, one inhale and exhale at a time, into that space where there is a steady equanimity with which you can see your fears and embarrassments, anger and shame without having to hold on to those feelings and wallow in negativity that prevents your ability to be in this moment. If you are not present now, you are not living your life fully. Walking in one direction with your face turned to see behind you will not help you see where you are going nor where you have been.

Each time you bring that breath in, you offer an open hand to your inner being, a hand you can always reach, one that never waivers in its steadfastness at your best or worst moments. Whether you are on the yoga mat or off, you can let your own breath remind you. That open hand will be there, offering unconditional friendship to you right where you actually are.

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